Write it—Tricks to Writing Dialogue

 

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First, I’m glad that I studied acting and playwriting while I earned my BA because those experiences help me write dialogue. Second, all writers need to know that dialogue is not filler for a story.

The best novels fit the dialogue into the glove of the characters’ background, dislikes, passions, and psychological architecture. And finally, writing compelling dialogue propels the story forward, gives the reader insights into the characters’ motivations (and hidden motivations), and fuels the conflicts that eventually lead to resolution.

So, the author must give thought to the dialogue. I prefer to overwrite the dialogue and then condense and delete during the rewriting process. By this point, I have a good grasp of my characters, their backstory, their conflicts with each other, and their motivations. I also enjoy my privy to the plot, the subplot, the climactic moments, and the resolution, especially when I’m writing a third person narrative.

A background in journalism comes in handy too. As a journalist, I interview each of my characters. Actually, I grill them and draw every ounce of humanity from them. I ask them their intentions, their hidden desires, and their motivations, especially in connection with the other characters, even the supporting characters.

Charles Dickens

While I wrote the first two drafts, of my  YA novel, “Lately, Queen Mamadou,” a conflict between best friends, Maggie (the protagonist) and Meghan (a fellow dancer) developed. The eating disorder that Meghan succumbed to heightened the conflict between the two women and also brought the main climactic moment.

A subplot revolves around Danny and JC, two gay dancers and the conflict they experience with ballroom and non-ballet dance. And then to add to the colorful dialogue, I included diverse points of view in the novel because Danny and JC are gay, JC is Puerto Rican, the dance character Monique is of mixed African descent, and another character Deva is an exchange student from India.

But the most fun dialogue to write revolves around Celia, (Maggie’s mother who is a new age hippie) who channels an ancient African queen. Writing that dialogue (of the channel sessions and telepathic conversations) involved channeling on my part. But isn’t that what we do as authors? We’re not just writers by profession. We also include journalism, spiritual channeling, and playwriting in our work. If we observe and listen well, then we also play the role of a detective and sometimes, a psychoanalyst.

Getting back to the topic of writing dialogue. It takes practice. It takes good listening skills and that includes listening to our still inner voice, aka, our intuition. I think that that it’s a myth that writers work in isolation. Yes, we spend time alone with our fingers riding the laptop keyboard. We spend time alone during our research.

And yes, we spend time alone working out the plot, the story, and the other elements of the story. But in order to write compelling dialogue, we must get out in the world and tune our ears to natural dialogue. Watching dialogue on television shows or in movies or even studying the dialogue in novels, won’t help us write our own dialogue. We must also dig deeper into the souls of our characters while keeping our ears tuned to the world around us.

Dialogue creates a dance of ideas between characters. Dialogue lives and breathes as well as, kicking life into our characters and into the stories we write. Dialogue has rhythm, melody, and harmony along with silence as in pauses for the characters to reflect.

Finally, don’t write down the inner chatter in your head and call that dialogue. Don’t send your characters off in a rant about the stuff that matters to you, but might not resonate with your characters. Bad dialogue is the author speaking from their own mind instead of the characters’ hearts. Avoid your ego getting in your way or your dialogue will fall flat. The critics and the readers will notice that the dialogue does not sound authentic coming from your characters’ mouths.

Writing is a road to mastership. It takes practice and years of developing characters and compelling stories, whether you write long or short fiction. The best authors combine raw talent with the willingness to hone their craft. And part of that involves getting feedback about the story development, the character development, and the dialogue. And the best question to ask is “Does this feel real to you?”

I am currently working on the third draft of my sixth novel. I also channel spirits, work as an astrologer, and as a journalist. I coach creatives to be their best selves and to show up fully with their work. Sign up for a session which includes astrology, channeling, and or card reading (along with practical everyday advice for authors). I also accept donations through PayPal if you find these articles useful.

 

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